War is an interesting (if horrible) thing.
We glorify it in our stories, and live vicariously through soldiers and generals as they plan and fight and scrape for their lives. It can be seen as something noble and heroic, or something needless and despicable. There are knights in shining armour, and then there are spearmen bathed in blood and up to their knees in shit. It can be something described by complex tactics and stratagems, or an unknowable, incomprehensible, and chaotic mess.
More succinctly, war is something that can be viewed from a variety of perspectives. That is what makes this anthology so interesting.
Well, it’s one of the reasons anyway, but not the main one. The main reason is that all proceeds from this anthology go towards Doctors Without Borders, a wonderful organisation who provide much-needed emergency medical aid to people affected by disasters, epidemics, and yes… war.
This book was pulled together by the folks over at Booknest.eu, one of our favourite blogs. There are forty short stories written by some tremendously talented authors, such as: John Gwynne, Anna Smith Spark, Sebastien de Castell, Ed McDonald, Nicholas Eames, Mark Lawrence, Michael R. Fletcher, Benedict Patrick, Ben Galley, Andrew Rowe, Dyrk Ashton, Steven Kelliher, Laura Hug
hes, Timandra Whitecastle, Graham Austin-King…
You get the picture. There are a lot of great authors that have contributed to this book, each of them with their own unique perspective on war. Their stories cover the entire spectrum that I hinted at in my opening paragraphs.
But how good are these stories?
Well, as is tradition for fantasy anthologies, they range from absolutely outstanding to downright forgettable. This creates a unique problem for me as a reviewer: how do you review a book that has FORTY stories of varying quality?
You could take the approach that /u/barb4ry did over on /r/fantasy, and review every single one of the stories individually, but I don’t quite have the patience or the memory for that. Alternatively, you could take an approach similar to that of the Coffee Archives, and review a subset of your favourite stories.
I’m going to take a different approach, and review the book as a whole.
An anthology for me is a little bit like literary speed dating. You meet a whole bunch of authors in a short space of time, and they have a (very short) opportunity to charm you with their conversation. Now, maybe this seems like an odd metaphor considering the subject matter — this is a book about war after all, and does contain all the prerequisite blood and guts and gore — but hear me out…
Like speed dating, it’s probably the case that you won’t hit it off with most of the people you meet. Quite a few of the stories in Art of War are predictable, lacking charm, and are maybe even a little boring.
Also like speed dating, there exists the possibility that you may meet someone who absolutely entrances you. There are stories in the Art of War that I believe will stay with me for a long while. Benedict Patrick‘s amazing fairytale from the Magpie King’s forest. Sebastien de Castell‘s outstanding story about a bowman and a trickster. Michael R. Fletcher‘s hilarious-yet-dark fight to the death (and beyond). Nicholas Eames split my sides, Ben Galley punched me in the gut, and then Timandra Whitecastle tore out my heart.
Beyond that, there are some authors that I wouldn’t mind meeting for a longer, more intimate, second date. Art of War introduced me to Brandon Draga, D.M Murray, and Laura M. Hughes — and I fully intend to grab each of their books as soon as I find the time.
There were also some familiar friends. It was good to see Mark Lawrence and Andrew Rowe again, and we really should get lunch and catch up.
I’ve seen some reviewers say that the number of poor/average stories outweigh the good. And yeah, maybe that’s true — but that’s true for pretty much every anthology.
So yeah, maybe I wasn’t too impressed by a few of the stories. Maybe there wasn’t enough time to really get to know them, or maybe it’s just a case of a bad first date. But if you meet 40 people in one night and would be thrilled to see 10 of them again… Isn’t that a good night?
In the end, I’m gonna judge this book by the stories that impressed me most, and I feel like there’s enough of those to make this book something worth reading, and worth recommending.
Read some great stories, find some new authors, and give money to charity. It should be a no-brainer.
You can buy your copy of Art of War on ebook or paperback at Amazon.